Release Date: Sept. 5, 2014
Running Time: 96 minutes
Frank Sidebottom was the comic creation of the English comedian Chris Sievey, who died in 2010 at age 54. Sievey’s musical persona attained a cult following thanks to the large cartoon-like fiberglass head he wore, the novelty songs he performed, and the crossover appearances he made on TV and in comic books. The cheerful spirit of Frank Sidebottom lives on in Frank, a poignant comedy that finds Michael Fassbender slipping on the aspiring indie-rock singer’s head. Instead of offering a biography of Sievy, co-screenwriter Jon Ronson ingeniously takes inspiration from his time playing keyboards in Sidebottom’s band to present an unusual examination of the creative process and the joy and frustration it can produce. Fassbender’s Frank is the inscrutable lead singer of an obscure U.K. band that goes by the name of Soronprfbs. The band is happy making music it wants to make for whomever wants to listen to it—until the arrival of Jon (About Time’s Domhnall Gleeson), a replacement keyboardist who comes to the commercial potential of Frank’s strange little songs. Everything unravels when the bands travels to Austin to perform at SXSW. Frank is seen through the eyes of Jon, whom Gleeson imbues with curiosity, acceptance, and mild but destructive ambition. He asks the same questions an outsider would ask. Who is Frank? Why does he wear a fake head? When does he take it off? What is Frank hiding? Is Frank just socially inept? Or is Frank mentally ill? He views Frank as an oddball genius whose devotion to his art should be rewarded financially. As much as Frank wants people to accept him for who he is—although isn’t it is clear who he is—he also wants his music to be heard by more than the handful of bemused bystanders who accidentally wander into Soronprfbs’ gigs. At first, Jon seems to be the most rational members of the band. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara bursts with hate and anger. Scoot McNairy’s Don suffers from an inferiority complex. Don welcomes Jon into the band but Clara despises Jon for the influences he begins to have over Frank. She doesn’t want the band to venture into emo or pop, which is where Jon’s heart seems to lie. Jon isn’t a force of corruption—he’s a well-intentioned guy who wants Frank to be accepted by the masses, especially if it means the songs Jon writes for the band will be heard. Frank slowly turns into a cautionary tale about the tragic implications of compromising artistic integrity. This is not to say Frank condemns the commercialization of art. It’s about what’s best for a singular talent who seeks solace in music. Frank isn’t capable of writing a Top 40 hit by design, and when he tries, he doesn’t just lose his voice, he loses himself in whatever dark place he goes to. Frank is an easy target to ridicule but director Lenny Abrahamson finds the humor in Frank’s situation without cutting him down to size. Abrahamson, like Fassbender, displays a deep affection for Frank. Fassbender, of course, is in the difficult position of portraying a complicated character whose face is hidden from the world. So he masterfully uses his lilting Irish accent and appealingly awkward body language to articulate Frank’s emotional highs and lows. The more time we spend in Frank’s company, the less we think of the head as a prop that is used as a coping mechanism than as an extension of Frank. It doesn’t define him but it speaks volumes about who he is and how he feels about a world that perplexes and confuses him. By no account does the mask make the singer who wants to be heard, one listener at a time.
Aired: Sept. 4, 2014
Web site: http://www.magpictures.com/frank/